What Will the Budget Break Thru Mean to Cities Struggling with Broken Mains?

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So this was the scene greeting many Washingtonians on their way to work Tuesday – another water main break in the middle of the nation’s Capital that snarled traffic in many directions and no doubt caused a very painful headache to DC Water for the remainder of the week.

But the water main break could not have happened at a more appropriate political time as it provided a perfect reminder to members of the House and Senate who are facing a sprint toward January 15th, the deadline by which Congress must complete annual spending bills now that a budget deal is in place, of what’s at stake in federal budget battles.

The budget deal sets government funding at $1.012 trillion until September 30, 2014, increasing slightly to $1.014 trillion until September 30, 2015.  Without the budget deal, the spending caps driven by sequestration would have meant at least $45 billion fewer dollars for discretionary spending programs this year, with another similar cut in discretionary spending the following year.  The reduction in spending would have had real consequences for the federal government’s ability to help communities invest in their aging water and wastewater infrastructure through the State Revolving Fund Programs (SRF).

We had a glimpse of what sequestration would mean to the SRF programs when the House released its draft Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 Appropriations Bill for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  The proposal would have nearly eliminated funding for the Clean Water SRF and the Drinking Water SRF by slashing the capitalization grants to $250 million and $350 million, respectively.

With this budget deal in place, the Clean Water and Drinking SRF programs may be able to see funding levels closer to last year’s levels of $1.452 billion and $909 million, respectively, which will mean continued help for our nation’s water and wastewater utilities.  While these levels are not nearly as much as what is actually needed, it is certainly better than the alternative which would have seen a dramatic scaling back of the feds ability to help at all.

 

This post was authored by Hannah Mellman, who at the time, was NACWA's Manager of Legislation Affairs.  She has since left NACWA for other opportunities. 

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